Recently, social media users began circulating a screenshot from a front-line Ukraine war report filed by BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen during the Battle of Irpin in March.
The image shows Bowen lying on his side on the ground and holding a microphone while taking cover at a river bank. A woman carrying a bag can be seen in the distance walking toward him.
Scores of Twitter users, in tweets shared tens of thousands of times, have implied or stated directly that Bowen faked being present at the battle in Ukraine.
Take this tweet from Twitter user Mark Jameson, which has received 16,600 retweets and 74,900 likes. It reads: “BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, pretends to be on the frontline, whilst a woman looks on, seemingly bemused.”
Another pro-Russia account, “Citizen Journalists,” which describes itself as being composed of open-source “investigators,” tweeted:
“This is the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Ukraine allegedly under attack but it seems nobody told the woman, who looks on in bewilderment with her shopping, [sic] that bombs were falling down all around her.
“Let’s caption this…'Do ya wanna wee cup of tea son’?”
Citizen Journalists retweeted photoshopped images of Bowen to further mock him. But their “investigators” apparently did not look up the original source of the image.
Another tweet from Abdinur Mohamed Ahmed, former deputy chief of staff for Somalia's presidency, reads:
“BBC’s Jeremy Bowen fakes being at the frontline in the Ukrainian war. BBC- Biased Broadcasting Corporation!!!”
On October 5, Dmitry Polyanskiy, the First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, derisively chimed in.
“An illustration of the quality of @BBCWorld's ‘professional journalism’. Western Media is fighting at NATO’s proxy war with Russia in Ukraine like a rank and file soldier instead of providing objective information to its readers!” he tweeted.
Polyanskiy also retweeted pro-Russia conspiracy theorist Vanessa Beeley, who wrote: ‘The #BBC man on the ground @BowenBBC sham ‘journalism.’”
Scores of variations on this theme – calling Bowen “fake news,” denying he was reporting from the front lines, ridiculing him for taking cover while a woman appears to be going about her day, or otherwise seeking to undermine the credibility of the BBC or mainstream media – have been shared on social media.
These characterizations are false. In fact, the posters are doing exactly what they accused Bowen of doing: taking an image out of context to distort reality.
The image of Bowen is from a March 6 dispatch he and his team recorded during the Battle of Irpin. Located next to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Irpin was part of the Russia’s offensive against Kyiv early in the war, and the fighting there was marked by artillery shelling, fierce street battles and close-in combat.
On the same day the BBC report was published, Russian forces had captured part of Irpin. On March 9, Russian armored vehicles and troops patrolled the streets.
After Ukraine finally regained control of Irpin in late March, the massive damage that had been inflicted on the city became apparent.
ReliefWeb, citing official estimates, said that up to 75% of Irpin's buildings were damaged in the battle, and at least 115 buildings destroyed.
So Bowen was clearly reporting from the front lines. As for the image of that woman walking towards Bowen as he took cover on the riverbank: The context is clear when viewing the report, which is available in its entirety on YouTube.
In the video, Bowen and his crew accompany civilians attempting to leave the city, following them along what remained of a bridge that Ukrainian forces had blown up to slow down the Russian attackers.
The civilians and BBC crew traverse up a steep riverbank with shelling around them. It was at this point that the image shared on social media was taken.
When Bowen takes cover, incoming artillery fire can clearly be heard. The woman walking towards Bowen in the screen capture was just seconds before the moment crouching behind what appears to be a detached rail from the damaged bridge.
The woman, in a group of fleeing civilians that Bowen and his team accompanied, stands up and approaches Bowen during an apparent lull, though not cessation, of the incoming fire.
Since the 62-year-old Bowen was providing narration of the events while lying down, there is nothing unreasonable about him staying in the same position until he completed his take, especially since the artillery fire had not completely ceased.
Earlier segments of the BBC report show other civilians taking cover on the same riverbank amid the sound of incoming Russian shells.
The report also documents a family being killed by shelling.
Bowen, a veteran journalist, has also reported from the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo and Syria. In 2013, he was hit in the head by shotgun pellets while covering protests in Egypt.
Bowen and other BBC reporters have consistently been on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine, risking their lives to document Russia’s invasion.